Kenya Horticultural Exporters (1977) Ltd has experienced tremendous growth within the industry and is now a market leader in exports to the UK and further afield
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
Kenya Horticultural Exporters (1977) Ltd (KHE) is a company borne out of humble beginnings, starting its time in the industry as a small-time greengrocer. However, with thanks to an innovative spirit and a drive for progression in 1965, the Company has become one of the most established exporters within the industry today.
At that point in time the Company was exporting between 50 and 100 kilos per week of Asian Veg to the UK market. it has now progressed to producing over 150 tonnes per week that are ready for export.
“We have proudly grown from a little greengrocer, to a large-scale exporter and the development we have experienced in the past 50 years has been thanks to the tireless efforts of both the Patel and Dhanani families,” begins Snehal Patel, Executive Director at Kenya Horticultural Exporters (1977) Ltd. “At KHE we ensure that we achieve strong leadership in all aspects of good agricultural practice, while also caring for the environment.”
The Dhanani and Patel families have worked together to achieve the success that we see today, including setting up of Wealmoor in the UK by Rati Dhanani, when he decided to emigrate to the UK. Wealmoor is now responsible for controlling and marketing the entirety of KHE’s exports into the United Kingdom.
With thanks to its strategic partnership with Wealmoor, KHE now supplies to some of the most recognisable supermarket chains, which include some household names like Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, ASDA and Co-op.
“As far as our work in the UK is concerned, we allow Wealmoor almost complete control of our exports to the country,” explains Patel. “At present 90 percent of our export products go to the UK, and having found such success there we have begun to explore opportunities further afield.”
Due to the fact that the Company has such a long and established relationship with Wealmoor, it doesn’t need to explore other options within the UK and at present KHE is looking closely at avenues within Europe and the Middle East, looking into strategic marketing for each potential area and in line with this we have entered into key partnerships to further both our product and market profiles. The most significant being a partnership with Surexport, a Spanish company to grow raspberries on their behalf and also a tie up with XPOL to market our product profile into the rest of Europe.
Currently KHE is operated and run by the Patel Family however, its partnership with Wealmoor is still stronger than ever.
Key changes and investments
As with all the companies operating within the export industry, KHE has had to ensure that it remains adaptable and consistently ahead of the industry curve.
“As much as possible we try and pack and label at the source, rather than bringing the produce to our HQ facility in Nairobi,” explains Patel. “We have set up fully fledged packing and labelling facilities at or very close to our farming operations. This means that as soon as the product is harvested, it is within very close reach to a packing facility where it can be pre-cooled quickly, packed and labelled if required.
“The earlier the product gets into your cold chain, the fresher and longer it will last. This also enables us to ensure that product once harvested is on the retailers’ shelves within 36 hours.”
KHE is the only Exporter within the East African region to invest heavily to produce its own modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), which extends the shelf life of products by three to four days. Unlike most food products, fresh fruits and vegetables continue to breathe and respire after being harvested.
This action of breathing consumes oxygen, produces carbon dioxide, water vapour and heat. The key to extending the shelf life of the product is to reduce the rate of respiration without affecting the freshness, this is done by both maintaining the cold chain and using “customised MAP Packaging”.
“In our MAP Production Facility, we have state of the art equipment which is used to measure the respirations rates of our products at different temperatures,” adds Patel. “Retailers have display and storage shelves operating at different temperatures and this enables us to create packaging to work at these temperatures including ambient.
“We have the ability to change the design of a bag with the click of a finger depending on the respiration rate, the growing region or the moisture content of the product to maximise on shelf life.”
KHE is gradually developing an impressive array of technologies to increase the success and shelf life of the products that it’s exporting; not only is its packaging regularly tested but also all stages of the growing process. This also helps us self asses our environmental impact in all our productions areas with a goal of reducing our carbon footprint every year.
“Each of our product varieties are continuously monitored, with new vegetable varieties being tested to taste and resistance to diseases,” explains Patel. “We also ensure that our farms are working to the TNC and LEAF standards of soil management, use of compost and reduction of pesticides.”
The Company also has to take into account aspects such as sustainable crop rotation and the use of biological controls for varietal development, alongside efficient water management. The latter is becoming increasingly important in particular, not only when it comes to creating the right atmosphere for product growth but also when it comes to cost efficiency.
Patel states: “Our quality improvement programmes are dramatically improving the quality of our crops, post-harvest controls environment, and varietal selection susceptibility moving forward which amongst other benefits leady to a reduction in food waste and give the consumers of our products additional time to use them.”
Upward growth trajectory
The Company has not forgotten to give back to the community and have invested in various projects via the Waitrose Foundation - with its office is located within KHE’s HQ. Key projects have included two maternity wards, a School, a dispensary, a girls dormitory, housing girls from all over the country and a recreational facility for our employees that houses a computer room, library, clinic, prayer room and a canteen. These projects are chosen by committee made up of the labour force themselves based on the surrounding communities’ needs.
“Our model of working is most definitely different to that of other exporters and this is what sets us apart,” explains Patel. “Although the Company has experienced immense growth and success over the years, there is still a long way for the dedicated team to go.”
Despite the success the Company has achieved so far and would like to achieve in the future, none of it would have been possible without its key partners and suppliers to which the Company personally thanks all of them for the support giving so far and hope for their continued support in the future.
“We have set objectives for the future in order to continue on with our upward growth trajectory,” concludes Patel. “We have already started on the automation of our growing techniques in order to maximise our yield over the course of the year. This is alongside the management of our packaging processes which I hope will continue to aid us in becoming the most popular company in the industry and increase our global footprint.”